LIMA — With a visit from President Donald Trump scheduled for Wednesday, Trump’s tour of the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center is the latest presidential visit in a long series, with only two sitting presidents — Clinton and Carter — opting out of a visit since Eisenhower’s stop in 1952.
Such frequency raises the question: What draws presidential and presidential candidates to the region?
At least part of the answer is Allen County’s political significance.
Dr. Bill Angel, emeritus associate professor of political science at The Ohio State University-Lima, said the region has such strong political importance in the national arena due to its unique demographics and how the interplay of the region’s cultural beliefs have influenced presidential campaigns within the last few decades.
As Angel said: “I think it’s because it’s a pretty conservative region, but it has enough Democratic voters to matter.”
Due to the influence of local unions, a large African-American population and a growing group of Latinos, conventional political wisdom should mean a stronger liberal tint in both Lima and Allen County, Angel said. But if the 2016 presidential election has shown, many of the region’s voters have shifted further to the right due to conservative beliefs toward social issues.
With those issues currently in play affecting much of the national conversation, the region has become something of a testing ground to see if those voters who are normally demographically liberal can be secured to continue to vote Republican, Angel said. It gives presidential candidates, especially Republican candidates, enough of a reason to try their hands to see if they can shift and secure minds with a more personal appeal.
Angel said the JSMC is a good way to make such an appeal. Due to its bipartisan support, Trump’s tour can highlight increased defense spending while making the case to union workers, who typically vote Democrat.
As for Trump, maintaining voter support from the region’s unique population is quintessential to the upcoming 2020 campaign. Anne Whitesell, Ohio Northern University Associate Professor of political science, estimated Trump will work to solidify support by talking about issues surrounding jobs, manufacturing, agriculture and the opioid epidemic.
In comparison, Democratic presidential candidates tend to seek larger media markets in Ohio, Whitesell said, in order to motivate metropolitan voters, who typically lean left.
“It comes down to generally urban versus rural and which area will outweigh the others,” Whitesell said.
“Every president and every campaign knows the importance of Allen County on the I-75 corridor,” Allen County Republican Chairman Keith Cheney said. “We have always had close relationships with presidential campaigns. When it comes to the relationship you build over the years, sometimes that’s why (visits) happen.”
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.